Even in far-away Finland, Jussi Jokinen
wasn’t immune to the emotional rollercoaster surrounding his first experience as an unrestricted free agent.
While he had stated his preference to stay with the Hurricanes at the start of the offseason, he acknowledged that things looked bleak for a long time.
“The gap was big and after a while you’re not sure,” he said, speaking from his home in Finland. “I was starting to think about something else.”
It wasn’t until his agent had productive face-to-face meetings with General Manager Jim Rutherford at the recent NHL Entry Draft that things began to take a turn for the better. With the lines of communication restored after four-to-five weeks of silence, the two sides began to meet in the middle, leading to a new three-year contract that prevented the player from testing the open market the next day.
Although he believes he may have earned more than the $3 million annual salary from another team had he waited another 24 hours, Jokinen said he was more than happy with the way things turned out.
“Seeing some other players sign big contracts, there probably could have been some crazy offers on July 1, but it’s never been about the money for me,” he said. “It wasn’t two years ago, it wasn’t now and it won’t be three years from now.
“As a hockey player you want to win the Stanley Cup. You can’t sign somewhere else and know that. Carolina is one of the teams I really feel is going in the right direction because we’ve got a great player leading at every position in Eric Staal, Cam Ward and Joni Pitkanen plus some younger guys coming in.”
Jokinen’s return keeps the Canes’ Finnish triumvirate intact, with Tuomo Ruutu under contract for one more season and Pitkanen locked up to a new three-year deal of his own as of one day earlier. Jokinen said that he and Pitkanen didn’t speak to each other about their futures too extensively as the process was going along, but that he was pleased to be reunited with a player he’s known since his youth.
“For us it was the first time to really go through free agency, but every player has different priorities,” said Jokinen. “We both decided what was best for us and our families going forward.
“I’m happy to remain with Joni because we’ve always had great chemistry together. I feel he’s one of the best defensemen in the league.”
Jokinen said that his personal comfort level with the organization was also a factor, having spent a tumultuous period in Tampa Bay prior to his arrival in Carolina via a trade in February of 2009. Beginning with his breakout performance for the Hurricanes in the 2009 playoffs, Jokinen has rediscovered and exceeded the promise shown during his first few seasons with the Dallas Stars, scoring a career-high 30 goals in 2009-10.
“I’ve been in three organizations and I’ve seen some good times and some bad times,” he said. “This is where I wanted to stay because it’s a great organization. I’ve played the best hockey of my career here.”
Jokinen thinks that the Canes can take next step as a team as early as next season, with the most immediate improvements coming from the faceoff circle. The Hurricanes struggled for all of last season in that department, finishing 29th in the league with a 44.6 percent success rate.
Jokinen, who feels the team can drastically cut its goals against by winning more draws and possessing the puck more often, led the team with a personal 52.8 percent success rate despite spending only parts of the season down the middle. He said that he’s not sure where he’ll line up at the start of his new deal, having guessed incorrectly each of the past two seasons.
There’s a reason for that, as Jokinen, who can and has played all three forward positions extensively since his arrival in Carolina, excels wherever he lines up.
“It will be the same as always, but that’s one of my strengths,” he said.